BOISE -- The homeless individuals who stay at Interfaith Sanctuary worked for Boise Parks and Recreation over the spring and summer in an unprecedented program we first told you about in September.
Today, we have an uplifting update: that program has been extended through the winter and into next summer thanks to a huge community partnership.
The work crews from Interfaith Sanctuary were really concerned they would be unemployed by this time because their work with Boise Parks and Recreation was seasonal and temporary; cue the J.A. and Kathryn Albertson Family Foundation, which stepped up and donated enough to keep the program going.
"Tomorrow will be my one-month anniversary with City of Boise Parks and Recreation through the Interfaith Sanctuary," one homeless guest on the Interfaith work crew, Don Weiss, said. "It was an opportunity I knew I wanted to take."
Weiss has been staying at Interfaith off and on for about two years.
"When you have to live in a homeless shelter, in a lot of ways, you feel like you've taken a step down and a step back and being able to participate in a program like this where I'm actually working, making money, saving, obviously that goes a long way towards helping you get your self-worth back," Weiss said. "Doing something about getting out of homelessness."
Now Don is working with his case manager toward applying for housing.
"If it wasn't for this program that probably wouldn't be possible," Weiss said. "Onward and upward thanks to the Parks and Recreation Department."
Because of this program, Interfaith Sanctuary Co-director Jodi Peterson says five of the nine people who were living at Interfaith and working for Boise Parks and Rec are no longer homeless.
"That definitely shows there is hope for us in this situation," Weiss added.
Don says everyone was so relieved when they found out they'd be able to keep working through the winter.
"Having this program go through the winter is everything we could ever hope for," he said.
"They turned it into a year-round program. The impact is huge," Peterson told KTVB. "We were concerned about what is that gap going to look like because now that they're into this routine of working, it's really showing so much improvement for them. We fear for kind of a downslide."
But that wouldn't have happened if it weren't for the generous donation from the Albertson Family Foundation - a donation that will pay their salaries.
"This was a great gift, great opportunity to keep them working. They want to continue to keep working," Boise Parks and Recreation Director Doug Holloway said. "They've got a little bit of comfort knowing they can have a steady income and continue to work for us."
Crews will be working at the Warm Springs and Quail Hollow Golf courses, Boise Zoo, Idaho Ice World, and will be doing other maintenance in the downtown core.
"That includes garbage pick-up, keeping sidewalks clean, it'll be snow removal on sidewalks and in crosswalks," Holloway added. "We already have their entire four months scheduled out."
With that donation, come next spring Parks and Rec is able to add two additional Interfaith work crews, meaning they'll double the crews and add 14 new workers.
"We have 18 people on the waiting list," Peterson said. "They want the same second chance."
"It's a two-way street: We feel like we've had some impact on their lives. Certainly they've had an impact on the entire city of Boise with the work they've been doing for us," Holloway said. "It's a click: They fit well with our department."
This whole effort is a public-private partnership that's working to lift some of Boise's most vulnerable up and out of homelessness.
"They're different in their heart, they're different in their health, they're different in their health. It's truly a partnership that changed these lives," Peterson said. "I don't know that you can solve homelessness without working together like this."
Peterson tells us she's talking to Boise State University about adding a similar work program there modeled after this. Nothing is solidified yet, but that would allow those homeless guests on the waitlist to get into a work program before spring.